Quantum Mechanics Again

Philosophy is concerned with the most important questions and the most important questions are debatable. Science restricts itself to questions that can be settled through experiment and empirical evidence, while ideally regarding scientific results as tentative and open to revision upon new evidence

q2

Some theists imagine that quantum mechanics can lend support to spiritual realities. They point to the Copenhagen interpretation, which incidentally has no fixed meaning. But one meaning is an agreement to shut up and calculate. The equations of quantum mechanics work therefore there is no necessity to figure out what the implications for physical reality are concerning these equations.

Physicists mostly avoid asking about the foundations of quantum mechanics. But of those who do ask such questions, there is no agreed upon answer. At that point, quantum mechanics becomes speculative and thus debatable. Some philosophers have felt that certain interpretations of quantum mechanics are friendly to spiritual realities and like to promote them as the truth. However, only scientific evidence should be used to select scientific theories. Employing religious criteria or religious motives for supporting a scientific theory is to be confused. It becomes a matter of saying “I prefer that this interpretation be true because it seems to fit my religious ideas.” In that case, science has ended and wishful thinking has taken over. And none but the most brilliant physicists are even qualified to participate in the debate; certainly not the interested layman.

A graduate school professor pointed out that the obscure must be explained, if it is to be explained at all, by the less obscure. Religious debates are debates on obscure topics. To appeal to science when that science is just as debatable and obscure as the religious idea a person wishes to support is to have made no progress at all. In fact, it is to engage in an error. It is to support a religious idea for which there is no widespread support with a scientific idea for which there is no agreement either.

q

The multiple worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is worrying theologically. If there are an infinite or at least indefinite number of a person all coexisting at the same time, what would that mean for the existence of the soul, and what would be the eschatological implications? Some versions of him would possibly be saintly while other ones might be diabolical. Ockham’s Razor often seems to be employed by the anti-spiritual, but the contention of the continuous division and branching of reality with whole new universes springing into existence all the time is surely not the simplest explanation.

However, we should remain content for science to develop as the evidence takes it. Physicists are not required to phone religious philosophers before postulating new theories. It is we who must accommodate to them, not the other way around, just as philosophers do not consult with them before philosophizing.

19 thoughts on “Quantum Mechanics Again

  1. You may find this interesting: Just as the quantum mechanics equations have possibilities that collapse into actualities, the original version of Einstein’s relativity equations had a ‘superliminal’ part, which indicates possibilities rather than a firm reality. Einstein excludes that part of the Lorenz equation, however these scientists propose putting it back in as a way of unifying the two theories:

    https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1367-2630/ab76f7

  2. The many-worlds interpretation is useful to atheists and naturalists, because it doesn’t need to posit any mysterious non-physical observers. If you are a theist, or consider consciousness as somehow nonphysical, then you have observers to collapse the wave function and don’t need to posit the existence of many worlds, which is highly non-intuitive.

    In fact, even though I am pretty much a naturalist and thus drawn to the many-worlds interpretation, it is so counter to lived experience that I might have to reconsider my commitments. I don’t care much about the theology of different versions of me ending up in heaven or hell, but the fact that every day I split into five different versions of myself depending on what I have for breakfast, and the next day each of those splits further…and in fact the splits aren’t happening just along choices of breakfast but every little physical micro-event….that’s so non-intuitive that the mind rebels.

    • The splitting requires a constant recreation of all reality. That seems like hyper-creationism as much as anything. It would also seem to take a lot of energy. What is the proposed mechanism by which everything is reproduced? Maybe Santa’s elves are more productive than we think.

      • It’s easy to put an electron in a superposition of spin up and down states about some axis (in fact it’s impossible for it not to be for most axes), but it’s still one electron, and there is no duplication energy.

        The real challenges to many-worlds interpretations are deciding what operators to use to define split worlds and convincing skeptics that it can reproduce the Born rule. The interpretation of quantum mechanics is the big problem of the philosophy of physics. Lots of physicists and philosophers are interested in it but doubt they can get anywhere with it.

  3. Pingback: Quantum Mechanics Again | Reaction Times

  4. If theists are advised not to cross the boundary into scientific theory, so should atheistic scientists be advised to remain strictly within their own limits, as astutely described in the recent quotations from St John Henry Newman.

    The atheistic scientists of the nineteenth century gleefully crowed that their deterministic mechanics and Darwinist evolutionism ‘proved’ that no God existed nor was needed. Now that subsequent discoveries in both these fields reveal far more plausibility for the existence of a Supreme Intelligence (and no amount of multiverses or ‘many-worlds’ can explain all the Information contained within them), I think it perfectly fair that theists should take comfort from this.

    The many-worlds theory is more accurately theology (or rather ‘anti-theology’) than science. It’s sole purpose is as an attempt ‘to prevent God from putting a foot in the door’? It is convenient in that, being entirely theoretical and lacking a shred of evidence-or even the likely possibility of evidence ever being discovered-it cannot be disproved. Something without the possibility of proof or disproof, whatever it is, cannot be science. There is the philosophical problem, also, that if a scientist managed to discover an alternative world, this would introduce it into our world and it could no longer be defined as another, alternative ‘universe’.

    • Hi, mickvet: thanks for commenting. Yes, listening to scientists philosophize is often a painful experience. I don’t think science can be used to prove anything spiritual but a) it can be interestingly suggestive, like the Big Bang theory is, or the current state of evolutionary theory https://voegelinview.com/evolution-2-0-by-perry-marshall/ or the fact that scientists have been unable to find memory traces in the brain (physical connections linking to memory) b) it’s nice to know when science does not rule something out.

      So, I have no problem taking comfort from various scientific findings as long as they are not regarded as substitutes for faith and hope. I know a supposed theist who completely rejects faith and hope and thinks he has proved God scientifically, which I regard as crazy on both counts. I’m also up front that I won’t be changing my belief in God and an afterlife no matter the science, so making one’s belief in God dependent on science would be a fragile place to be.

      The multiverse theory as a response to fine-tuning seems desperate and stupid and suffers from the defects you mention. However, Sean Carroll claims that the many-worlds theory, which is something different, initially proposed by Everett is actually the most straightforward implication of the equations. If that is the case, and I am in no position to judge, then that would be a strong factor in the theory’s favor. Max Planck, if I’m remembering correctly, first posited quanta – the idea that energy comes in packets, the smallest being photons, and electrons leap from shell to shell rather than varying continuously in energy states – but regarded it as a mathematical solution to a problem that did not reflect physical reality. Einstein’s initial big leap forward was to take quanta seriously as a fact about actual physical reality – so Einstein kicked off quantum physics just by taking equations seriously. So, if many-worlds is really the implication of the equations, it could be the path forward. But, that is all worthless speculation on my part. I’m just intrigued by the idea that science progresses at times by taking things seriously – just as Shroedinger’s cat was supposed to refute quantum mechanics. Instead, it was embraced by physicists.

      • Bohr said that the quantum world is ‘not real’, Von Heisenberg that it was somewhere between potency and actuality. No physicist has ever produced a mathematical formula that describes or explains wave vector collapse. In other worlds, it has not been proven that the world we inhabit is a physical one. The notion that the matter we consist of is formed of electrons surrounding atomic nuclei and all these being the foundation of atoms, molecules and so on upwards has not been demonstrated. These only exist in potency and what happens when the wave vector collapses is unknown. It doesn’t matter what measuring device, or how many, (even an infinite regress) one uses, ultimately the decisive interpretation has to be by a consciousness. This is Wolfgang Smith’s interpretation and it seems plausible to me. If we can’t really prove the existence of a physical universe, it strikes me there’s not much point debating an effectively infinite series of them. Not to mention that equations might be wrong and the most straightforward interpretation of them not necessarily the correct one.

        You’re dead right about faith. Like you, I intend to maintain belief in things that are (Intentionally) not ‘provable’.

      • “Yes. The many-worlds theory as a response to fine-tuning seems desperate and stupid and suffers from the defects you mention.”

        Correct me if I am wrong but I don’t think the many-worlds theory works as a response to fine-tuning, since the fundamental constants are the same in all the worlds. I think you are referring to the multiverse, which is a different concept, a set of gazillion universes where each universe has a different set of values for the fundamental constants (take that, Ockham!). Not that this solves the fine-tuning problem (the multiverse mechanism must be fine-tuned to produce valid universes) but, hey, when you are trying not to go where the evidence leads, anything goes.

        “However, Sean Carroll claims that the many-worlds theory initially proposed by Everett was not a response to a theological problem, but is actually the most straightforward implication of the equations. ”

        I don’ t think there is a straightforward implication of the questions but the many-worlds interpretation is a valid interpretation according to science (but not without its scientific problems https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_42skzOHjtA).

        However, as a metaphysics, it is a very extravagant interpretation and other interpretations should be preferred for the time being, at least while we don’t have new data.

        Have I said “for the time being”? Yes, this is what science is: a provisional knowledge. For every set of data, there are infinite theories and we prefer the “prettiest” theory: the one with more explanatory power and more simplicity, for example. Of course, future data can disprove this “pretty” theory and point to an “uglier” theory, but we cannot suspend judgement waiting for a future refutation for every theory, refutation that may or may not arrive. If we did that, science books would be blank. We wouldn’t accept any theory because future data could disprove it.

        It’s obvious that the the Copenhagen interpretation is much superior to the many-worlds interpretation. What is the problem them? Why don’t we accept it “for the time being” as any other theory? Why do we decide to suspend judgement and allow tens of different interpretations to be equally valid? (some of then quite bizarre, such as the many-world interpretation or the many-minds interpretation). Why does this double standard exist? It is because Copenhagen interpretation goes against naturalism, that’s why (the same as fine-tuning, see above).

        Not that this should be a problem: in fact there is much philosophical and scientific evidence that consciousness is not physical, most of it unrelated to quantum theory. But all this evidence is forgotten or disregarded, because, hey, when you are trying not to go where the evidence leads, anything goes.

        Geneticist Richard Lewontin said it best:

        “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

        It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

      • Thanks, imnobody00: thanks for clarifying the many-worlds vs multiverse distinction. I guess I’m ambivalent about science being committed to naturalism/materialism. I tend to think – let them see where they can get with that stuff – and then pat them on the head as they get stuck.

  5. The equations of quantum mechanics work

    I am far, far from any expert on QM. But “the equations work” always struck me as akin to the imaginary number. Hmm . . . I have to end up solving for the square root of -1 to get this equation to work, so I will just call that “i” and presto! The equation works!

    While we’re at it, let’s just call division by 0 some exotic Greek letter.

    • c matt – This is a case of the blind leading the blind, but I believe that cellphones and atomic bombs depend upon quantum mechanics equations for their construction so the equations “working” is related to very tangible things in the world, not simply doing proofs in the classroom and the like.

  6. However, only scientific evidence should be used to select scientific theories

    This is true to an extent, if by evidence we aren’t including the metaphysical framework by which we understand the empirical data. But even then, it isn’t strictly true. It is enough for me to say, for instance, that it has been divinely revealed that mankind descended from a single original pair to reject the scientific theory of polygenism for the human race.

    These kinds of exceptions are especially present in the scientific inquiry into origins, because we don’t get to observe what happened, we just have the aftermath. So, for instance, it is perfectly reasonable for me to reject a scientific theory which does not conform to the divinely revealed first perfection of the universe or which does not conform to the divinely revealed fact that Adam was formed from the slime of the Earth and Eve from his rib.

    You might suppose that the big bang theory or evolution are not scientific theories at all, that they are historical theories (theories about what actually did happen) whose mechanisms must be explained by science, in which case my objections fail. But then the argument that the science says these things happened seems to fall apart (and indeed, there are many scientists who do believe that evolution and big bang theory are false).

  7. The great thinker Wolfgang Smith argues that Quantum Mechanics has definitely disproved the old Atomism of Democritus that Descartes resurrected and vindicated Aristotle’s metaphysics. This Atomist view hold that all things are reducible to ultimate “atoms” which can be quantified precisely. These “atoms” always existed and are indestructible. For the Atomist, form doesn’t exist, everything is a just a different arrangement of atoms.

    What Quantum Mechanics has demonstrated is that the Atomist quest is manifestly impossible. When we move to the subatomic realm, it turns out that the precise calculations that hold under Newtonian physics go out the window! The Quantum paradoxes show that the subatomic matter is in fact not possible to quantify precisely, we can only make probability calculations. What this means is that matter without form is unintelligible. The Atomist attempt to explain the whole of reality by reducing it to quantifiable ultimate particles is thus impossible! You can’t make exact measurements of matter without form without the act of measurement imposing a form on the matter! This is what explains the quantum paradox, that the very act of observing the phenomena seems to “interfere” and impress itself on the phenomena observed. The quantum realm is in fact dealing with matter without form.

    The reason there are so many competing theories about the meaning of Quantum mechanics from physicists is because they don’t want to acknowledge that Aristotle and Aquinas were right all along. Instead of acknowledging the basic truth of act and potency, and God as the first cause, the “scientist” has to come up with many outlandish theories of multiverses that can never be observed so that he never has to give up the illusion that nature points to God. Of course this veers into philosophy, but what Quantum Mechanics has shown is that matter doesn’t explain itself, and without form can’t even be precisely understood.

  8. The Bible does seem to support the notion that there are possible futures that are not realised as actual futures. In 1 Samuel 23:9-13, David asks the ephod, “if we go down to Keilah will they betray us into Sauls hands and will we be captured”, and the ephod answers yes. So David decides not to go to Keilah.

  9. When we read the explanation of the Schroedinger’s cat experiment, we can see one of the intellectuals problem that may be affecting modern physics.

    Not being able to know whether the cat is alive or dead, two possible solutions are proposed:
    1. the cat is alive and dead (were St. Augustine alive, he would have beaten the the author of this idea to a pulp: “something cannot be and not be at the same time”).
    2. multiverse theory, which is philological nonsense, because “universe” designates the WHOLE creation by God (I am quoting Fr. Chad Ripperger here, on this dissertation on the Multiverse, Working Wives, and Silence; which you can find in youtube). Accepting this idea would require to suppose God has made several creations, which directly contradicts His word on the Bible.

    We see that both explanations to Schroedinger’s cat are absurd, they do not adapt to reality, much less to Catholic Doctrine (which by definition is true and infallible).

    Consider that Schroedinger’s cat was a problem proposed at the beginning of quantum mechanics in the 1920’s, so the consequences of these two erroneous interpretations perpetuate to our day. The quantum physics/mechanics community tends to be atheistic/agnostic, so they really have issues as a group to grasp what I explained above. This would explain why modern physics is rife with error.

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.